Arvin and Lamont, two small, poor and predominantly Hispanic communities in Kern County, have seen some of the highest rates of COVID-19 countywide.
A review of data by ZIP code released by the Kern County Public Health Services Department shows that on a sheer numbers basis, only ZIP codes in Bakersfield and Delano — the county’s two most populous cities — have more cases of coronavirus than Arvin and Lamont.
With nearly 3,000 cases, Bakersfield accounts for 75 percent of the nearly 4,000 total cases countywide. Delano, population 55,000, has had 177 cases, followed by Arvin, population 22,500, with 162 cases and Lamont, population 17,000, with 160 cases.
Arvin Mayor Jose Gurrola said he was initially bothered that county public health officials wouldn’t release case numbers by municipality, leaving his city in the dark about its outbreak.
Once the numbers became available in early May, Gurrola said, “we were one of the top communities and we knew we had to take action.”
The Arvin City Council passed an ordinance several weeks ago requiring the use of masks by employees at any businesses that were in operation, and more recently passed another ordinance requiring businesses post signs encouraging patrons to wear a mask.
On a per capita basis Lamont ranks first among the county’s 50 ZIP codes for most confirmed cases. For every 1,000 residents of the unincorporated community, nine have contracted the virus. The Bakersfield ZIP code of 93307 comes in next with 8 out of every 1,000 residents contracting the virus followed by Arvin with 7 cases per 1,000 residents.
Why cases are higher in these areas is a complicated guess.
Gurrola said Arvin residents already have disproportionately high rates of asthma, hypertension and diabetes, which can increase the risk of getting COVID-19 or the severity of the illness if contracted. Residents in Arvin are also more likely to be low-income and have less access to quality healthcare, Gurrola said, and many work in agricultural jobs that put them at higher risk. As essential workers, farmworkers and food plant employees have continued to go to work and many tend to carpool and work in close proximity, Gurrola said.
Supervisor David Couch noted that Lamont, in particular, is a more compact and dense community than one might think, and COVID-19 is believed to spread more easily in densely populated areas. His office has distributed 2,000 masks to residents of his district to help prevent the virus from spreading, he said.
Kern County Supervisor Leticia Perez, whose district covers some parts of the 93306 and 93307 ZIP codes in east Bakersfield, said there’s a high volume of testing in east Bakersfield that’s been ongoing since the start of the outbreak.
“Testing means we find sick people at a higher rate than (supervisorial) districts whose elected officials have chosen not to or do not have the capacity to organize the widespread free testing that we have implemented in east Bakersfield and have now expanded into the fairgrounds,” Perez said.
Still, Perez said, the local case rate “should sound the alarm for those that think it will just go away if we pretend it is not here.”
At a City Council meeting this week, Arvin leaders will consider another step to stem the spread of the virus when it discusses possible enforcement options for face masks following Gov. Gavin Newsom’s order last week for them to be worn in public.
Gurrola said he thinks the county and other cities should consider doing more to require the use of masks, as well.
“We can do what we can in Arvin but because Bakersfield is the metro, and a lot of people get services there, it makes it difficult to stop the spread,” he said, noting that last week the city of Bakersfield said it wouldn’t refuse service to anyone not wearing a mask.